Pension system exposes Europe’s superiority complex

By Li Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/16 21:58:40

Protesters take part in a strike in Paris, France, Dec. 5, 2019. Photo: Xinhua

France's largest nationwide strike in years, triggered by the proposals on changing the pension system, is still going on across the country. Because of the strike, transport services in Paris and many other French cities are almost paralyzed.

France still faces many difficulties in its reform of the pension system. These challenges include the deep-rooted pension system, the bad timing of the reform and French people's way of thinking.

First, France's current pension system is unbalanced and it was not designed well from the beginning. French workers from 42 different schemes, including teachers, doctors, police, civil servants, firefighters and Paris Opera House ballet dancers can enjoy earlier retirement and more favorable pensions. Such a system is neither fair nor sustainable. The reform aims at a more balanced system, but will definitely affect these people's interests sooner or later.

Second, French President Emmanuel Macron wanted to advance the pension system reform gradually. The current system was formed during France's "Les Trente Glorieuses" (The Glorious Thirty) - the 30 years from 1945 to 1975 after the end of WWII. There was no overall design of the pension system at the very beginning. It was the small and slow changes that made what the system is today. It can be very hard to gradually reform a system like this. A more complete and fairer system must be rebuilt, but it seems almost impossible now.

Third, the timing of France's pension system reform does not seem good. The French economy and the entire EU economy are in a state of decline. The German economy is on the verge of recession. This being the case, French people will launch protests if they feel their interests are affected.

Fourth, French people have linked such a pension system with their French national identity. The system, as an important feature of the high welfare country, has already been deeply rooted in French people's mind. They take the current pension system for granted, believing it is proper and justified. Thus, to reform the system is almost to reform French people's concept of state.

Indeed, high welfare is regarded as the most important element of the European model. But people should not take high welfare for granted because high welfare is based on their countries' competitiveness. 

The current problems in France also somewhat exist in other EU countries because the global competitiveness of EU countries is generally declining. Both China's rise and East Asia's development are challenges to Europe.

Some European people should get rid of their superiority complex. They have always believed that the European model and system are the best in the world. Can Europe's competitiveness still lead the world? If not, how should Europeans strive to maintain their competitiveness to create a fairer and more satisfying model? These are the problems that France and Europe need to solve.

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